Castle of the Faithful Wives|Wife Stories ~ Legend Stories for Kids
This story goes back to a thousand years ago. In Germany's royal palace, the Duke of Welf bowed before King Conrad III and accidentally brushed against the foot of the Queen. Enraged at this insult, the King stood up and yelled at the Duke in front of all his men. Embarrassed and offended, the Duke declared he would never again pay any taxes to the royal crown! Furious, the Duke stormed out of the palace.
To punish him, the King at once sent his royal army to surround the Duke's castle. (In those days, dukes and other powerful men lived in castles with their families, servants and followers.) King Conrad III knew it was only a matter of time before the people trapped inside would run out of food and water. They would have no choice but to surrender.
Meanwhile inside the castle, the Duke of Welf was ready for a long siege. He had already stored a fortune of gold and silver inside the castle, and they were also well supplied with food and other provisions. At night, he planned to send scouts through secret tunnels to the city of Weinsberg to buy whatever they needed. The Duke hoped his friends in Weinsberg would send word of his plight to opponents of the King and they would muster a force of soldiers, come to his aid and rescue them all.
King Conrad III and his troops, after waiting impatiently for a few weeks, sent a messenger to the Duke demanding the surrender of everyone in the castle. All of the Duke's men would have to die by the sword, but the women and children would be free to go. The Duke of Welf flatly refused these terms. Furious, the King ordered all roads and pathways surrounding the castle to be barricaded. He sent soldiers to search for tunnel entrances and when they were discovered, he filled them, blocked them, and stationed soldiers by each one.
Inside the castle, food and other provisions were running out. The Duke sent young spies at night to buy food and provisons, but they were unable to return because the tunnels were blocked and guarded. From the top of the castle the Duke could see that soldiers guarded all the pathways. A quick inventory revealed the once-ample stores were nearly depleted. In fact, all that remained were two barrels of beans. The outlook was grim. The people inside the castle knew they faced starvation.
In a fury that the Duke hadn't already surrendered, King Conrad III sent another message. If everyone in the castle did not surrender that very night, he would set the entire city of Weinsberg on fire and subject all its inhabitants to the sword. Now the people inside the castle were truly desperate! Not only was their own doom sealed, but the innocent residents of Weinsberg would share the same horrendous fate.
In the hastily gathered meeting that took place next, it may have been the clever wife of the Duke of Welf, the Lady Uta, who came up with a plan. Before sundown, a messenger emerged from the castle with a letter addressed to King Conrad III. The letter read:
We, the women of the castle, humbly realize that our fate
is in your hands. We ask only that you allow us to leave
at sunrise tomorrow with our children and whatever we
can carry on our backs. For this we entreat you and submit
our lives to your mercy.
King Conrad III considered the proposal. After all, he had already said he'd let the women and children leave in peace. If they took a few pocketfuls of valuables, what was that to him? They could rebuild their lives and he'd be forever hailed as a wonderful and merciful king. Besides, the vast fortune of Duke Welf would be abandoned inside the castle and he could add it to his own royal treasury. Plus the whole affair would be over. He sent the messenger back with his royal approval.
The next morning at sunrise, the castle gates creaked open. Out stepped the women with their children behind. But that's not all that emerged from the castle. Carried on the backs of the women were their own husbands, while on the backs of unmarried women were their own brothers or fathers. Each woman staggered under the weight of her burden while the men, sputtering with embarrassment on the backs of their womenfolk, struggled to keep from slipping to the ground.
Astonished at the very sight, King Conrad III laughed. His soldiers, outraged at the gall of these women, demanded that all the traitors be executed at once. The King refused, declaring he had already given his royal word that they could take whatever they could carry on their backs, and "a king always keeps his word." Thus the women of the castle were allowed safe passage and to rescue their beloved menfolk as well.
According to legend, the Duke and his men were so grateful that they renewed their loyalty to the King. King Conrad III renamed the castle "The Castle of the Faithful Wives," the name by which the castle is still known today, should you ever visit the city of Weinsberg in Germany.
Question 1: If you were King Konrad III, would you be angry that you were tricked?
Question 2: Think of another story where characters escape from a dangerous situation. How do they do it?
The above story is retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2006. All rights reserved.
The day the women walked out of the castle carrying their husbands is believed to have been December 21, 1140.
The American town of Winesberg, Ohio, was originally named after the German city of Weinsberg in the early 19th century. The spelling was changed to "Winesberg" in 1833.